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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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June 3, 2011

Gettysburg and Luther seminaries will join forces

The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.) and Luther Seminary (St. Paul, Minn.) announced June 3 they will work together on an existing distributed learning master of divinity program at Luther, and a new religion and media concentration for Gettysburg's master of arts in religion program, to begin as soon as fall 2012. Both degree programs involve distributed learning, with a sharing of faculty, two-thirds of coursework carried out online, and one-third of instruction done through campus-based intensives.

The seminaries' announcement about the cooperative effort follows "Renewing the Seedbed," a recent ELCA study on theological education governance that calls for new and creative collaboration. ELCA and other mainline seminaries are facing the challenges of declining enrollment trends, an economic downturn that makes it difficult for students to relocate, and an increasing debt load for seminarians.

In a joint statement, Gettysburg President Michael Cooper-White and Luther President Richard Bliese said, "We are eager to see what emerges from an unexpected exploration on the part of schools from differing heritages and in distinct Eastern and Midwestern contexts. We are committed to sharing our discoveries and exploring broader collaboration with our other partners in the Lutheran network and broader circles of theological education."

Not a merger; identities remain separate

Both institutions will keep their separate identities and maintain relationships with seminaries in their separate ELCA seminary clusters.

However, they will "work together in creative ways" that "build upon the latent and active strengths of each in forming leaders for mission on behalf of the church," stated a joint news release from Luther Seminary and Gettysburg Seminary. The two seminaries plan to jointly research future educational models as well.

It's unexpected because "the usual thinking has been that cooperation among seminaries will go on in the [geographically based seminary] clusters," said Luther Seminary academic dean Rollie Martinson, who is heading up the effort with Gettysburg academic dean Robin Steinke. "One thing that's emerged is that while clusters are good for certain kinds of shared work, they can't contain all of the shared work."

Also notable, Martinson said, is that cooperative efforts among seminaries tend "to be thought of as being done out of deficits or to economize. That is not the case here. This is about two seminaries working out of their assets."

Still exploring details and advantages

Martinson allowed that the efforts are still in "exploratory stages," with both "excitement and caution" from seminary leaders, who "want to be careful how the details are worked out." He credits much of the new proposal to Steinke, "an incredible churchwoman who was eager to have partners in this imaginative work and I became one of them," he said.

Their work could have many advantages, from equipping new leaders for ministry with new media to reducing seminarians' overall debt and expanding the reach of seminary programs, Martinson said.

Gettysburg, founded in 1826, is the oldest continuing Lutheran theological school in North America, with 220 students and 16 full-time faculty. Luther, founded in 1869, is the largest ELCA seminary, with 796 students and 45 full-time faculty. 

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